Dues fight escalates toward decertification

Related story: "School union: No discount for non-members"

Unions act as if 'closed shop' was never banned

Employees of the Las Virgenes (CA) Unified School District who are neither teachers nor members of the local classified union are being forced to pay an "agency fee" that is equal to the monthly dues paid by union members.

Sherill McMichael, the office manager at Lupin Hill Elementary School in Calabasas, spoke to the board of education on July 22 on behalf of employees who have chosen not to join the Las Virgenes Classified Association (LVCA), the local union that represents office workers and other non-teacher workers.

McMichael said the fee represents a mandatory deduction of $25 to $50 per month from non-union paychecks, the same monthly amount that union members must pay. McMichael said that because only 48 percent of the school district employees are members of the LVCA, the fee should be terminated.

"During this tough economic time, a yearly pay reduction of $250 to $500 for an unplanned, unauthorized payroll deduction could spell disaster for many families," said a letter to the board of education that was submitted by McMichael and fellow union members Sandy Moreno and Le Ann Christianson.

"When hired as an employee of the Las Virgenes Unified School District, no employee was instructed it was mandatory to pay an agency fee to LVCA," the letter stated.

The trio of classified employees spoke to the school board on behalf of all district employees who are not members of the local classified association.

Christianson said the move to force non-members to pay the fee was "disrespectful for the non-member majority."

"(The issue) has nothing to do with the administration or the board," Christianson said. "It's purely a union thing."

Moreno said the union decided to charge the fee during the summer while employees were away. "Their first paycheck when they return will be deducted," Moreno said. "They raised dues but never told anyone."

But LVCA President Penny Ellis said state law requires the deduction.

The law states that public school employees must either join the "recognized employee organization" or pay the organization a "fair share service fee."

McMichael said even if the fee is required by law, it is negotiable and should at least be lowered, if not eliminated.

The letter states that if LVCA enforces the mandatory agency fees, the non-member majority will file documents for a decertification of the union.

The women are contacting other nonmembers to sign a petition against the union.

"I'm not going to back down, I can tell you that," Moreno said.


Judge deals blow to forced-labor unionists

But Denver Post campaigns unabashedly against worker-choice

A Denver District Court judge has effectively tossed a lawsuit that alleged signature collectors for the right-to-work ballot measure committed fraud. Judge Christina Habas ruled Wednesday that she doesn't have the authority to review every signature submitted by the right-to-work group. State law limits the court's jurisdiction to the random sample reviewed by the Colorado secretary of state's office, she said.

Secretary of State Mike Coffman's office in April reviewed a random sample of 6,821 signatures, or 5 percent of the 136,608 signatures submitted by the group, and determined that 4,728 were valid. Based on that sample, Coffman certified 94,546 signatures. The measure needed 76,047 valid signatures to be approved for the November ballot. It will appear as Amendment 47 and seeks to ban forced union dues.

The lawsuit alleges, among other things, that some circulators were not Colorado residents as required by law and some petitions had invalid notaries and duplicate signatures.

Amendment 47 spokesman Kelley Harp said Thursday the ruling shows that the allegations are "frivolous."

Protect Colorado's Future, the union-backed group behind the lawsuit, plans to continue the court battle.

"We expect the Supreme Court will be the final decision-maker," said Jess Knox, the group's executive director.


Barack joins Whole Foods card-check snafu

Related stories: 'Whole Foods cancels non-union beef', 'Whole Foods goes back to non-union beef', 'UFW may face RICO charges over Whole Foods'

Organizer-in-chief already on the job

The United Farm Workers of America has a new ally in their protracted labor conflict with Beef Northwest: Barack Obama. On Aug. 4, the presidential hopeful sent a letter to John Wilson, a partner in Beef Northwest, urging him to accept the results of a card-check survey that showed a majority of Beef Northwest workers at a Boardman feedlot were in favor of union representation.

"In America, we should value the labor of every person and reward it with a few basic guarantees, such as fair wages and treatment, healthcare, and a dignified retirement," Obama wrote. "All workers should be free to form a union, and if they choose to form a union, management should negotiate in good faith to reach the first contract."

The UFW has been insisting for over a year that Beef Northwest workers at the feedlot desire union representation. Workers came to the organization for help, said UFW spokesman Steven Witte, saying they did not have adequate health insurance, were working under unsafe conditions, and were not treated with dignity and respect by their superiors.

The card-check survey was gathered by UFW representatives and counted by a Portland minister on June 13.

The workers want a union agreement similar to that at two recently unionized companies in the region, Willow Creek and Columbia River dairies, Witte said.

In response to the UFW's requests, Beef Northwest has repeatedly denied that their workers want to unionize, and said the results of the card-check survey are illegitimate because workers were coerced into signing the cards.

"The workers don't have any complaints," Wilson said in June.

Wilson said he is in a favor of a vote to determine if his workers want a union, but he will only accept results from a neutral, disinterested third party. Beef Northwest has made no attempt to set up such a vote, Wilson added.

"It wouldn't be independent if Beef Northwest instigated it," he said.

However, Beef Northwest did produce a petition signed by a majority of workers at the feedlot that said they did not want union representation.

Numerous third parties have attempted to resolve the dispute, including Gov. Ted Kulongoski's office, which sent aides to a meeting between Beef Northwest and the UFW.

The meeting lasted a couple of hours and was of "very little value," according to Wilson.

The UFW campaign to unionize the workers even led to a temporary boycott of Beef Northwest.

Country Natural Beef, a collective of beef producers who send their cattle to Beef Northwest's feedlots, at first decided to switch feedlots, under pressure from their largest customer, Whole Foods. But then, less than a month later, Whole Foods reversed itself, saying it wanted to remain neutral in the labor dispute.

Stacy Davies, a spokesman for County Natural Beef, said the card-check survey collected by the UFW was problematic because of the potential for coercion and peer pressure.

"The card-check is no more accurate than the petition held by Beef Northwest saying the workers don't want representation," Davies said.

On July 21, the feedlot was visited by members of the Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, who talked to the workers and attempted to get a clear view on whether they wanted a union or not. David Leslie, the executive director of the group, said he could not comment on what happened at the meeting, but that the UFW and Beef Northwest seemed to be talking to each other.

Wilson also said there is communication between the two parties.

"There have been ongoing discussions, none of which have reached any point of consensus yet," Wilson said.

As for the Obama letter, Wilson said he wrote Obama back, inviting him to tour the feedlot and eat a meal with him and some employees at the Spud Cellar, a popular watering hole in Boardman."I haven't heard anything back," Wilson said.


Collectivist mantra goes mainstream

Related story: "Unions win using Rules for Radicals"

Barack's Radical Roots and Rules

The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee's choice of the word "change" as his campaign's central slogan is not the product of focus-group studies, or the brainstorming sessions of his political consultants.

One of Obama's main inspirations was a man dedicated to revolutionary change that he was convinced "must be preceded by a passive, affirmative, nonchallenging attitude toward change among the mass of our people. They must feel so frustrated, so defeated, so lost, so futureless in the prevailing system that they are willing to let go of the past and change the future."

Sen. Obama was trained by Chicago's Industrial Areas Foundation, founded in 1940 by the radical organizer Saul Alinsky. In the 1980s, Obama spent years as director of the Developing Communities Project, which operated using Alinsky's strategies, and was involved with two other Alinsky-oriented entities, Acorn and Project Vote.

On the Obama campaign Web site can be found a photo of him teaching in a University of Chicago classroom with "Power Analysis" and "Relationships Built on Self Interest" written on the blackboard — key terms utilized in the Alinsky method.

The far-left Alinsky had no time for liberalism or liberals, declaring that "a liberal is (someone) who puts his foot down firmly on thin air." He wanted nothing less than transformational radicalism. "America was begun by its radicals," he wrote. "America was built by its radicals. The hope and future of America lies with its radicals." And so, "This is the job for today's radical — to fan the embers of hopelessness into a flame to fight. To say, '... let us change it together!' "

Alinsky students ranged "from militant Indians to Chicanos to Puerto Ricans to blacks from all parts of the black power spectrum, from Panthers to radical philosophers, from a variety of campus activists, S.D.S. and others, to a priest who was joining a revolutionary party in South America."

Capitalism always was considered the enemy. "America's corporations are a spiritual slum," he wrote, "and their arrogance is the major threat to our future as a free society." Is it surprising that an Alinsky disciple such as Obama can promise so blithely to increase taxes on CEOs?

Obama calls his years as an Alinskyesque community organizer in Chicago "the best education I ever had, and where I learned the true meaning of my Christian faith." But as radicalism expert Richard Lawrence Poe has noted, "Camouflage is key to Alinsky-style organizing. In organizing coalitions of black churches in Chicago, Obama caught flak for not attending church himself. He became an instant churchgoer."

Indeed, Alinsky believed in sacrificing ethics and morals for the great cause. "Ethical standards must be elastic to stretch with the times," Alinsky wrote in his last book, "Rules for Radicals," adding that "all values are relative in a world of political relativity."

Published a year before Alinsky's death in 1972, "Rules for Radicals" includes a dedication in which he gives "an over-the-shoulder acknowledgment to the very first radical ... who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom — Lucifer."

Alinsky's writings even explain what often seems like Obama's oversized ego. In New Hampshire in January, for example, the senator told an audience that "a beam of light will come down upon you, you will experience an epiphany ... and you will suddenly realize that you must go to the polls and vote for Obama."

It was a bizarre spectacle, but consider that Alinsky believed that "anyone who is working against the haves is always facing odds, and in many cases heavy odds. If he or she does not have that complete self-confidence (or call it ego) that he can win, then the battle is lost before it is even begun."

According to Alinsky, "Ego must be so all-pervading that the personality of the organizer is contagious, that it converts the people from despair to defiance, creating a mass ego."

Alinsky also readily admitted that he didn't trust the people themselves. "It is the schizophrenia of a free society that we outwardly espouse faith in the people but inwardly have strong doubts whether the people can be trusted," he wrote. "Seeking some meaning in life," the middle class, according to Alinsky, "turn to an extreme chauvinism and become defenders of the 'American' faith."

This is evocative of Obama's remark during the primaries that small-town Americans are "bitter" and "cling to guns or religion."

Obama is also following Alinsky's instructions to the hard left for attaining power in America. In the last chapter of "Rules for Radicals," titled "The Way Ahead," is found this declaration: "Activists and radicals, on and off our college campuses — people who are committed to change — must make a complete turnabout."

Alinsky noted that "our rebels have contemptuously rejected the values and way of life of the middle class. They have stigmatized it as materialistic, decadent, bourgeois, degenerate, imperialistic, war-mongering, brutalized and corrupt."

According to Alinsky, "They are right," but he cautioned his comrades that "the power and the people are in the big middle-class majority." Therefore, an effective radical activist "discards the rhetoric that always says 'pig'" in reference to police officers, plus other forms of disguise, "to radicalize parts of the middle class."

Obama's rhetorical window-dressing is easily recognizable as Alinskyesque camouflage. New annual spending of more than $340 billion, as estimated by the National Taxpayers Union, is merely a wish to "recast" the safety net woven by FDR and LBJ, as Obama describes it in his writings. The free market is disparaged as a "winner-take-all" economy. Big tax increases masquerade as "restoring fairness to the economy."

Barack Obama's "Change We Can Believe In" is simply socialism — imposed by stratagem because Americans have never believed in Marxist economics. Saul Alinsky understood this, and his ghost is alive and well — and threatening to haunt the White House.


SEIU-UHW fails to prove its existence

NLRB Judge smacks down sloppy organizers

The controversial decision by Stanford Medical Center to suspend recognition of a union representing 1,450 healthcare workers was affirmed by a judge in a National Labor Relations Board ruling on Friday. Administrative judge John J. McCarrick of San Francisco ruled that the union failed to properly prove to Stanford that it existed, thus violating labor rules.

In 1998, Stanford employees elected Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 715 as their workers’ union. In 2006, however, SEIU Local 715 and other local unions underwent a number of mergers that resulted in consolidation into the United Healthcare Workers (UHW) Union-West.

Stanford Hospital & Clinics (SHC) and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital (LPCH) withdrew recognition of the union this month, stating that their employees had elected SEIU Local 715, not UHW Union-West, as their workers’ union.

“The union engaged in unfair labor practices when they failed to notify us of this merger, and they failed to prove the existence of SEIU Local 715 to us,” said Sarah Staley, director of communications for LPCH.

But union officials disagree, arguing that Stanford is misleading the public about the conflict.

“All the National Labor Relations Board said was that Local 715 was supposed to have provided information to Stanford proving the union’s existence, and we didn’t,” said John Borsos, vice president of United Healthcare Workers. “Stanford, as usual, is taking something and completely distorting it. It’s a cover to justify their 10-year pattern of anti-union behavior.”

Stanford hospital employees will be voting to determine the future of their union representation in early September, in an election held by the National Labor Relations Board.

In anticipation of the election, SHC and LPCH administrators recently launched a Web site, www.stanfordpackardfacts.com, justifying the hospitals’ fair treatment of workers.

“We wanted to provide a one-stop, fact-based, around-the-clock resource to help our employees make the right decision on voting day,” Staley said.

Borsos, however, has a different view of the site.

“Stanford is wasting patient care dollars trying to fight the voices of caregivers at the workplace by trying to discourage them from voting for union representation,” he said.

The results of this dispute will be resolved on either Sept. 10 or 11.

“We expect to win with a super-majority,” Borsos said.


Barack favors 'no vote, no choice' unionism

More EFCA stories: here

Secret ballot union elections under assault by union bigs, Dems

If you're employed as a union executive or an elected Democrat, you probably know all about (and approve of) the latest union assault on democracy, the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). But if you're not, you need to familiarize yourself with yet another attempt to transform American capitalism into rampant socialism.

EFCA would replace the secret ballot in union organizing elections with a system of "card checks," where union organizers can pressure workers to publicly sign a card stating they want to join a union. Workers, of course, would never have the option of voting against union membership, and millions of workers could be forced into a union without ever getting the chance to vote on the matter.

A great majority of Democrats, but not all, say they support the idea. Among the "but not all" crowd is a man often called the "most liberal" - until Barack Obama - candidate for president in the country's history, George McGovern. He said in a Wall Street Journal Op-Ed piece the other day that, "(Democrats) cannot be a party that strips working Americans of the right to a secret ballot election. We are the party that has always defended the rights of the working class. To fail to ensure the right to vote free of intimidation and coercion from all sides would be a betrayal of what we have always championed."

On general principles, we virtually never agree with Mr. McGovern, but in this case, we applaud him for his courage and perspicacity.
Rejecting the assault

We also applaud the following mostly left-leaning newspapers for their views:

• "The misnamed Employee Free Choice Act also would have denied workers the right to a secret ballot on the question of whether they want to be represented by a union at all." (Denver Post).

• "The House has passed organized labor's top legislative priority, a measure that would make it far easier for workers to organize: They could get a majority of workers to sign cards rather than having to win a contested election." (Washington Post).

• The fight for the survival of labor unions has degenerated into yet another national squabble over the counting of ballots. But union organizers are not asking for paper trails or hand recounts. They want to do away with union ballots altogether, and even those in Congress who are sympathetic to labor's plight ought to think twice about condemning democracy." (St. Petersburg Times).

Public exposure

• "The proposed law, in most cases, would dispense with elections and make the decision of whether to sign a union card the sole and very public determinant of organizing." (San Antonio Express-News).

• "EFCA strikes down a fundamental right of workplace democracy, the secret ballot in representation elections. Instead of protecting workers' right to vote their consciences without fear of union or management retaliation or intimidation, EFCA enables union officials seeking to organize a company for the first time to obtain signatures supporting a representation vote on cards from a majority of employees. (San Francisco Examiner).

• "By eliminating the option of a secret ballot in union organizing votes ... a union would no longer have to win a secret-ballot election to gain the right to represent workers should the employer refuse to certify that bargaining unit. Instead, elections would be replaced by the ‘card check' system." (Rocky Mountain News).

It's estimated that EFCA would disenfranchise 105 million American workers.

Private choices

Need we say that a fundamental principle of American democracy is that votes are private choices? Secret ballot elections ensure that voters can choose the candidate who truly represents them, not the candidate whom their friends or neighbors want them to support.

Without secret ballots, union organizers would know exactly who has signed union cards and who has not. In the past, union organizers have repeatedly approached and pressured-and, in some cases, threatened-reluctant workers. They have also used pro-union co-workers to solicit signatures, putting peer pressure on "holdouts" to change their minds.

As with so many left-oriented ideas, this one would override private, individual choice through coercion, and would place the union movement firmly in the Marxist camp, once and for all. Where does Barack Obama stand on this issue? Guess.


Voters cool to dismantling union democracy

Related story: "Public opinion survey on card-check"
More EFCA stories: here

Secret-ballot elections defended by George McGovern

Politics, it said, makes for strange bedfellows. I have seen hundreds of examples in the many years I have been involved in politics. Here is another example which I never expected to see. Those who follow this commentary know that one of the chief concerns of Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao as she wraps up nearly eight years of service in the Cabinet of President George W. Bush is the so-called Card Check Program.

Liberals in Congress have promised to enact the card-check law in the next Congress. Senator Barack H. Obama has pledged to sign it if he were to become President. In typical Orwellian fashion, the legislation is called the “Employee Free Choice Act.” As Secretary Chao has stated, this legislation would deprive ordinary workers of the right to a secret ballot as to whether to organize a union in a factory or company. Secretary Chao’s opposition to this measure is to be expected since she represents an Administration which has been opposed by union bosses from day one.

What I did not expect was who has joined her in opposition to card check. Are you ready? Former Senator and Democratic Presidential nominee George S. McGovern. He has come out as strongly opposed to card check as Secretary Chao.

This is a shock because McGovern had a 100% pro-union voting record while serving as a Senator. Whenever measures would surface which were favorable to unions McGovern would defend. I never expected McGovern to oppose card check.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, under the title “My party should respect secret union ballots,” McGovern stated, “I have participated in my share of vigorous public debates over issues of great consequence. And the public has been free to accept or reject the decisions I made when they walked into a ballot booth, drew the curtain and cast their vote. I didn’t always win, but I always respected the process. Voting is an immense privilege. That is why I am concerned about a new development that could deny this freedom to many Americans.” McGovern went on to say that as a long-time friend of the labor unions, he feels he must raise his voice against as what he sees as, “a disturbing and undemocratic overreach” which is not in the interest of either management or labor.

McGovern goes on to explain that the key provision of card check is a change in the mechanism by which unions are formed and recognized. “Instead of a private election with a secret ballot overseen by an impartial federal board, union organizers would simply need to gather signatures from more than 50% of the employees in a work place or bargaining unit.”

According to McGovern there are many documented cases in which workers have been pressured, harassed, tricked and intimidated into signing cards which have led to mandatory payment of dues. McGovern suggested that workers could lose their freedom to express their will in private, the right to make a decision without anyone peering over their shoulder, free from fear or reprisal.

Secretary Chao could not have said it better. McGovern pleads with his party not to support card check. Said the former Senator from South Dakota, “We cannot be a party that strips workers of the right to a secret ballot election. We are the party that always defended the rights of the working class. To fail to ensure the right to vote free of intimidation and coercion from all sides would be a betrayal of what we have always championed.” McGovern pointed out that key Democrats in Congress have insisted upon a secret ballot for unions in Mexico and elsewhere yet they support the opposite in this country.

He said sometimes it is necessary to tell friends “no” when a provision would weaken labor “and disrupt a tried and trusted method for conducting an honest election.” I don’t recall ever being on the same side as the Senator on a matter of major national debate. But on this issue I could not agree with him more. I belonged to a union (AFTRA) many years ago. I was pleased to be associated with my fellow broadcasters precisely because we had the privacy of the vote.

It may be asking too much since union bosses intend to put hundreds of millions of dollars into the fall campaign to elect more Democrats but it would behoove the Party elders to consider what McGovern has said. What might be a temporary gain could end up destroying the unions in the long run. It is always difficult for leaders to accept the long-range view as opposed to the temptation to act for immediate gain. For the good of the nation let us hope there at least some Democrats willing to take the long view.

- Paul M. Weyrich is Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation.


EFCA debate raises monopoly bargaining issue

Related story: "Respected Democrat rips EFCA"

Why shouldn't unions compete for workers?

I agree with George McGovern that the proposed "card-check" legislation is an open invitation to abuse and ought to be opposed by congressional Democrats ("My Party Should Respect Secret Union Ballots," op-ed, Aug. 8). I would suggest that he think through our whole approach to labor relations law. Current law is an authoritarian assault on the liberty of workers who do not want union representation at all.

The National Labor Relations Act makes a certified union the exclusive representative of all the workers. Those who think that the union costs too much, fails to represent their workplace interests, or engages in political activities they don't support must nevertheless accept its dominion over them. The Right to Work laws of 23 (sic) states permit disaffected workers to stop paying dues without being fired, but that is only a second-best remedy.

There is no reason why labor unions must be given monopoly status. Both Democrats and Republicans ought to support reform of the law so that individuals are free to join or quit unions, just as they are free to join or quit churches, clubs, or any other organization.

If unions are beneficial, they will survive without coercing workers who prefer independence.

George C. Leef, Raleigh, N.C.


Barack fights against worker-choice

More EFCA stories: here

Union bigs, Dems prefer force to persuasion

Last year, I wrote about the so-called Employee Free Choice Act then pending in Congress. It would have enabled a union to be certified as the bargaining representative of employees merely by presenting to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) cards executed by a majority of employees in the bargaining unit. In other words, the presentation of cards would mean no election. Thus, instead of making the decision about whether to be represented by a union in private and in secret, employees could be subjected to all manner of coercion to sign a card.

This anti-free choice legislation passed the House. However, it failed to clear the Senate, where it obtained only 51 votes, nine short of what's required to defeat a filibuster.

With the Democrats possibly in a position to gain nine or so Senate seats this year, the AFL-CIO has made anti-free choice legislation its number one election priority. Donald Lambro reports in the Washington Times that organized labor will spend (it is estimated) upward of $300 million in this year's presidential and congressional elections -- much of it promoting the card-check bill and tying it to its Democratic supporters.

John McCain says he would veto such legislation, so Barack Obama's success is critical to organized labor's efforts to swell its roles by eliminating elections. Accordingly, organized labor is all-in for Obama. And since organized labor tends to be most influential in key states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan, its stake in Obama represents a huge plus for the candidate, who has not exactly been a sensation in these jurisdictions so far.

Obama, naturally, is more than happy to go along with the anti-democratic, pro-union legislation. Thus, his website proclaims his support for legislation that "will allow workers to form a union through majority sign-up and card-checks."

However, the Obama campaign, being the Obama campaign, refuses fully to own up to what it's supporting. Instead, as Lambro reports, the campaign tries to have it both ways. Thus, Obama spokesperson Nick Shapiro says:

This is simply a debate over process. But it is up to the workers, and they should be free to choose their process. If they wish to vote by secret ballot instead of a card-check process, they can. The law does not strip them of that right.

But under current law, the union doesn't become an employee's representative unless a majority of the workers confers that status in a secret election under as close to "laboratory conditions" as the NLRB can ensure. Under the law Obama wholeheartedly supports, if the union, under unsupervised conditions, can browbeat more than half of the employees into signing cards, there is no election. Thus, the Obama campaign is correct that the debate is over process, but it is deceitful in claiming that workers will always be free to choose their process.

UPDATE: Lorie Byrd cites some of the Senate races upon which organized labor is concentrating. They include Dole vs. Hagan (North Carolina); Coleman vs. Franken, in all likelihood (Minnesota); Wicker vs. Musgrove (Mississippi); Collins vs. Allen (Maine). Dole, Coleman, and Collins all voted against the anti-free choice legislation in the Senate, while Wicker did so in the House.

JOHN adds: The point of the unions' "card check" proposal is to empower union goons to visit employees, armed with baseball bats or with suspicious bulges under their jackets, to pose the ominous question: "You're for the union, aren't you?" When the first employee who refuses to sign the union's card is found lying in a ditch, the remainder of the organizing campaign will go very smoothly indeed. Ask yourself: if the unions don't want to abolish the secret ballot so that they will be free to intimidate workers, then why do they want to abolish the secret ballot?

That such thuggery could be a serious prospect in 21st century America is deeply disgraceful.


Taking heat over 'no choice' unionism

Teachers unions in toxic political spill

Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

Audit finds questionable political spending

Over the past two years, the Teachers Association of Long Beach (CA) appears to have used general fund money for political expenses and may have spent at least $110,000 more on its election campaigns than union leaders had authorized, according to an audit obtained by the Press-Telegram.

The California-based audit firm Hemming Morse Inc. was hired by the statewide teachers union - the California Teachers Association - to investigate allegations of fiscal mismanagement at its Long Beach chapter.

The CTA assumed control of the Long Beach union last October amid a leadership controversy that pitted TALB President Michael Day and then-Executive Director Scott McVarish against some members of the union's board of directors seeking McVarish's ouster.

McVarish announced his resignation from TALB in February.

The audit, unsealed as part of a lawsuit, analyzed TALB finances to determine whether the union properly managed the funds earmarked for election campaigns in 2006 and 2008.

The union spent funds on behalf of school board candidates in 2006 and 2008 and on Long Beach City Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske's successful run for council two years ago. Schipske works for TALB as the union's attorney.

The audit found that:

Political expenses appeared to have been paid with money designated for the union's general operations, and not from separately maintained accounts reserved for political causes.

The amount of campaign spending appeared to have exceeded the totals approved by the union's two governing bodies.

Loans for campaign expenses were taken out by the union and repaid in ways that apparently had not been approved by union leaders.

Barbara Kerr, whom CTA placed in charge of TALB as trustee in October, said that the union has addressed the problems in the audit through new policies and procedures.

"We have taken care of all of those issues," she said.

Use of accounts questioned

TALB maintains separate accounts for union operations - its general fund - and for its political affairs. Teachers can choose not to have their dues spent on political causes.

But auditors found that TALB appeared to have used $39,629 from its nonpolitical accounts for campaign purposes, according to a copy of the audit, which was based on the firm's review of financial documents and employee interviews.

Of that total, $10,667, which had been designated for bargaining expenses, apparently was spent on political items such as postage, a banner, campaign photography, legal services and other purchases, the auditors concluded.

They concluded that the money should have been allocated to the union's separately maintained political fund.

Because union members designated specific amounts of their dues for politics, the use of TALB's financial resources for political activities "would be considered a misappropriation of funds," auditors concluded in their written findings.

Also part of the $39,629 total was a nearly $29,000 check from TALB general funds made out in August of 2006 to attorney Fredric Woocher for the payment of legal fees. An invoice from Woocher's law firm did not specify the exact purposes of the legal services that were provided, according to the auditors.

Citing information provided by McVarish, auditors reported that the money may have been for Woocher's work defending TALB-backed school board candidates David Barton, Michael Shane Ellis and Jim Deaton in a lawsuit in 2006.

The lawsuit filed against the candidates centered on a "blueprint speech" TALB provided the candidates for their campaign in an effort "to revamp the district," auditors wrote.

TALB paid for the legal expenses in that lawsuit, the audit stated.

Woocher represented Ellis and Barton in defending them against the two lawsuits, filed by groups of registered voters, challenging the accuracy of the candidates' submitted ballot statements in 2006.

It's unclear if that is the same litigation referred to in the audit.

If Woocher's invoice was for legitimate legal expenses relating to the campaign, the money should have been allocated to the union's political accounts, auditors concluded.

Barton, Deaton, Ellis and Woocher could not be reached for comment Friday.

Union President Michael Day, who in 2006 was on the TALB board and was co-chair of the union's political action committee, said that after the audit the expenses were reviewed by CTA-affiliated experts.

Those experts concluded that some of those monies were for member communications and legal services that were legitimate general fund uses, he said.

When asked whether Woocher's legal work on behalf of candidates would be considered political spending, Day said, "I don't have that information in front of me."

Kerr said the problems were resolved.

"Members know that they have the option to be involved in political action or not," she said. "They do know that, and the problems were fixed."

But Dale McVey, a TALB board member whose lawsuit led to the unsealing of the audit, questioned Day's response, especially the legal work Woocher's firm allegedly performed for candidates.

"Obviously, general funds were used for (the political action committee), which violates the rights of the members to decide whether they wanted to participate in political activities are not," he added.

The audit, which covered the fiscal years 2006 and 2007, did not find any apparent irregular expenditures during this year's school board elections, in which TALB backed two unsuccessful candidates.

Amounts scrutinized

Auditors also raised concerns about whether the 2006 campaign spending had exceeded what was authorized by the TALB Board of Directors or the union's Representative Council, a policy-making body made up of teachers elected at school sites.

Both the board and the Representative Council under TALB rules weigh in on financial affairs of the union.

Citing a review of the minutes of a January, 2006 TALB board meeting, auditors concluded that the board had approved a $380,000 budget for the 2006 election campaigns.

But TALB ledgers showed that at least $490,305 was spent on the 2006 campaigns, about $110,000 over the approved budget amount, according to the audit report.

TALB campaign finance filings with the state show an even greater amount of union campaign spending for the 2006 election: $543,481, the auditors found. That total is more than $53,000 greater than that shown in the union's general ledger and about $163,500 over what the board budgeted in January for the 2006 races, Hemming Morse staff concluded.

Auditors "did not see approval of the additional expenses in the (TALB) board minutes or Representative Council minutes," auditors concluded in their written findings.

Day said he was not aware at the time of any overspending and said he doesn't believe that the overspending was done knowingly.

"We spent more than was budgeted," said Day, adding that procedures now have been improved. "That's it. How was it done, I just don't have the particulars in front of me."

Some unaware of spending

TALB board member Dale McVey, whose lawsuit led to the unsealing of the audit, said that board members were kept in the dark about campaign spending.

Despite asking for them, board members were not presented with budgets for the political action committee activities or accounts of political spending, McVey said.

Board members not serving on the political action committee often were not even told the times and locations of the committee meetings, he said.

"They were held outside TALB offices in secret places, and we had no idea where they were," McVey added.

McVey, a strong critic of Day and McVarish, alleged that the overspending was too large not to be purposeful.

He also alleged that the excess amounts were kept from the board and Rep Council.

McVarish, who could not be reached for comment, has denied any wrongdoing during his tenure at TALB.

It shows a total lack of accountability for our senior staff and executive officers, because they bypassed the board (and) the Rep Council," McVey added. Loan repayment criticized

Auditors also scrutinized three loans that TALB took out in 2006 for campaign expenses, totaling $318,000, according to the report.

Those loans were secured with money set aside in the general fund. Overall, $345,856 in restricted general funds was used as collateral, a practice Hemming Morse criticized.

Such political loans "should not be secured with funds from the general fund as that restricts cash ... necessary for the payment of the ongoing operations of TALB," auditors wrote in the report.

It appears that the loans "did not receive adequate approval prior to being executed," the auditors concluded after reviewing minutes of Board of Directors and Representative Council meetings.

Minutes of a September 2006 Rep Council meeting indicate that the first two loans, totaling nearly $250,000, "were taken out without proper Representative Council approval," auditors wrote.

The minutes, which understated by about $20,000 the total amount of the first two loans, indicate that the Rep Council did not vote to approve the loans.

Auditors noted that the third loan - for $70,000 - was executed before the TALB board voted to approve the loan in a special meeting on April 24 of 2006.

In addition, auditors did not find evidence that that either the board or the Rep Council approved using general fund money as collateral for the loans.

Auditors also criticized the method by which portions of the loan were repaid.

Hemming-Morse noted that in late 2006, the union began assessing teachers $6 per month for a special political fund dedicated to supporting the union's 2008 political campaigns. The union apparently paid off a portion of the 2006 loans by using a political fund that had been earmarked for the 2008 political races, auditors found.

Kerr said that such problems, like all those pointed out in the audit, have been fixed.

Day said that at the time he thought that proper procedures were followed.

"There might have been problems with our procedures and some of the ways that we deal with our finances," he said. "But through the audit and through a lot of work, we rectified a lot of those problems, or virtually all of those problems."

When asked how funds earmarked for the 2008 campaign could have been used to pay off the 2006 loans, Day said that he did not have information immediately available to answer the question.

Audit controversy

Kerr said in her communications with members she did not tell them specifically of the audit's findings that general fund money may have been spent for political purposes.

Kerr said that teachers, including members of the Rep Council, were told that the audit had found that mismanagement occurred and that the problems have been fixed due to new procedures and policies.

"The membership was kept informed," she said.

The TALB board of directors has not made a decision on publicizing the audit's contents, as the document mentions individual employees and therefore contains personnel information that is not appropriate to disclose, she said.

But TALB board member McVey said that members have the right to see details of the audit, such as the political spending issues.

"It's the members' association," he said. "It's the members' money ... Of course they have every right to know."

McVey obtained a court order unsealing the audit as part of lawsuit he and other board members filed last year demanding TALB financial documents and a union membership list.


Teamsters assemble global threat to InBev

Related A-B/Teamsters stories: here

Hoffa looms in the background - for now

Union members from across the St. Louis area will hold a rally in support of Teamster workers at Anheuser-Busch on Saturday, Aug. 16 at 1 p.m. in a show of unity during the company's acquisition by Belgium-based InBev.

Teamsters from all 12 Anheuser-Busch breweries in the United States will be joined by supporters that include Missouri Jobs with Justice, Service Employees International Union, Change to Win federation, the St. Louis Labor Council, the Building Trades of St. Louis and officials from InBev unions from all over the world.

In July, Anheuser-Busch agreed to a $52 billion takeover bid by InBev, making it the world's largest beer maker. InBev has said it will keep open all 12 U.S.-based breweries, and designate St. Louis as its U.S. headquarters.

Anheuser-Busch Teamsters
Jack Cipriani, Director of the Teamsters Brewery and Soft Drink Conference
Tom Keegel, Teamsters General Secretary-Treasurer
Paul Garver, Brewery Worker Coordinator, International Union of Food Workers (IUF)
Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO)

Rally in support of Anheuser-Busch workers

Saturday, Aug. 16, 2008, 1 p.m.

Kiener Plaza
7th and Market Streets
St. Louis, Missouri

Signs, banners and Teamster trucks


AFL-CIO defends congressional Ponzi Scheme

Quadrennial eruption signals silly season

In a move that signals a major new effort to woo elderly voters to Obama, the AFL-CIO is dropping a scorching new mailer in battleground states hammering John McCain on Social Security and directly referencing McCain's wealth, his corporate jet, and his expensive Italian shoes.

"McCain's worth over $100 million," reads the mailer, which we obtained in advance of its public release. "He owns 10 houses ... he flies around on a $12.6 million corporate jet...he walks around in $520 Italian loafers."

"If John McCain lost his social security, he'd get by just fine," the mailer continues. "Would you?" Click on the images below to enlarge:

The new mailer, which highlights McCain's history of support for privatizing Social Security, signals a recognition that unions can play a role reaching out to what they think will be a pivotal swing state vote: Retired union members.

Steve Smith, a spokesperson for the AFL-CIO, tells me that the union will be striving to reach out to more than a million union retirees in coming weeks.

"In key battleground states, the retiree vote is going to be crucial in the presidential race," Smith says. "Our research -- polling, focus groups -- indicates that many seniors still are unaware of John McCain's record in support of privatization and plans to drastically reduce benefits."

The mailer will go out tomorrow to 50,000 retirees in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan, and more mailings will soon be dropped in those states, where the union is also planning a series of Social Security events.

The mailing's hard-hitting references to McCain's wealth also suggests that the big unions see another role for themselves: Striking a sharp populist tone in attacks against McCain that others have been calling on the Obama camp to employ, particularly in response to McCain's "celeb" ads. The message, quite simply, is: Who's the real elitist here?


NY teachers to oust GOP lawmakers

Related story: "Labor-state bigs to take political scalps"
Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

New York shows the nation how it's done

New York's powerful teachers union on Wednesday withheld its endorsement and support from 38 senators -- including George H. Winner Jr. of Elmira -- who voted last week for Gov. David Paterson's proposal to cap the growth of school taxes, which are among the nation's highest.

NYSUT put pressure on lawmakers by saying the endorsement could still be made if the lawmakers flip-flop. NYSUT will review its decisions after Tuesday's special session of the Legislature called by Paterson, if the tax cap proposal comes up, or any time before Election Day.

"This is perhaps the most critical issue facing public education in a generation," said NYSUT Executive Vice President Alan B. Lubin in announcing what he called the suspension of endorsements. "NYSUT members are property taxpayers, too, and they, too, want relief, but not at the expense of their schools and school children."

NYSUT President Richard C. Iannuzzi said politicians supporting Paterson's tax cap chose "political expediency over the future of New York's children and public schools."

Winner, R-Elmira, said Wednesday that he is disappointed that NYSUT would ignore his past support of issues affecting education, such as increasing school aid, to choose not to endorse him on one issue.

"But the teachers union is free to do what they want," he said.

His Democratic opponent for the 53rd District seat, Elmira Mayor John Tonello, said Wednesday that he thinks the tax cap issue is a political gimmick.

"We need more details on the specifics of a tax cap (on growth of school taxes)," Tonello said.

He said his major objection to the tax cap is that it doesn't deal with how districts might reduce spending.

"Legislators and the governor must take a comprehensive approach to school funding that reforms the property tax system, maintains funding for classrooms and helps improve graduation rates," Tonello said.

On Wednesday, the Working Families Party announced it would send 200,000 pieces of direct mail to voters with the repeated message pictured on a blackboard: "Governor Paterson's tax cap scheme will hurt our schools."

The chairman of Paterson's tax relief commission that proposed the cap, Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi, accused the education and labor coalition of personally attacking Paterson, a popular Democrat now in his fifth month on the job.

"'Tell Governor Paterson don't hurt our school,'" Suozzi said, paraphrasing one of the ads. "I think that's personal."

Dan Cantor of the Working Families Party denied any attack on Paterson, but said criticism is focused on his "gimmick."

Losing the endorsement, votes and campaign support from local teachers -- and campaign funding from NYSUT -- could be a blow to incumbents. Senate Republicans face the possible loss of their one-vote majority in the fall elections.

Assembly Democrats are expected to meet today in Manhattan to discuss an array of deals that could come together for action in Tuesday's special session. Among the issues are the tax cap and the Democrats' proposal to provide more money to help low- and moderate-income families pay heating bills this winter.

The groups favor the Assembly Democrats' proposal for a "circuit breaker." That would give breaks to elderly and middle-class homeowners by basing school taxes on income, rather than their homes' market value. State aid could be added to make sure schools don't lose traditional gains in funding.

"You will give a perverse incentive for the school district to spend more money," Suozzi said, saying those not included in the break will pay more, along with businesses. "New York is No. 1 in taxes and in some cases No. 34 in test scores. So something is backwards here."

About 70 percent of school aid goes to salaries and benefits.

"We may look back at this as a significant event and significant miscalculation on their part," E.J. McMahon, from the fiscally conservative Empire Center for New York State Policy, said of NYSUT.

"This is a Legislature that has been bending over backward for NYSUT for decades," McMahon said. "Do they really intend to declare war on 38 senators who, odds are, are going to be returned to the Senate?"

NYSUT had a close relationship with longtime Senate Republican Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, who retired in July. Bruno wouldn't even let Paterson's bill get a floor debate.


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